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Last night’s “The Biggest Loser:” Do It For Your Family


Contestant Patrick House, a 28 year old unemployed father of two from Vicksburg, MS (starting weight: 400 pounds, current weight 301).

In the opening of last night’s “The Biggest Loser,” trainer Bob Harper challenged Patrick House, a 28 year old from Vicksburg, MS (starting weight: 400 pounds).

“Why do you wanna be here, Patrick?”

Patrick answered, “For my family. I’ve got two boys.”

“Time to make your sons proud.” Bob said off-camera, his voice beaming warmth like a bad lieutenant gone soft.

All eyes were on Patrick as this week’s episode of NBC’s hit show opened, since it was his shocking betrayal of supposed friend and partner Jesse last week that sent him home. Bob wanted answers; nay, America wanted answers.

Patrick explained, “I would have loved to have never had to vote Jesse out. But at the same time, he’s partnered with my biggest competition right now, standing between me and winning the Biggest Loser.”

Later we learn that Patrick is unemployed, and living off family loans.

So when Patrick says he’s fighting to stay “for his boys,” producers have artfully constructed a context where the viewing audience hears “I want to lose weight to be healthy for my family.” It seems equally likely, though, that what is actually being said is: “I am competing on a game show to win a quarter of a million dollars that I desperately need, and I will do anything to my friends or to my body to win that money.”

This week’s episode featured a lot of talk of family. Cast members’ loved ones sent in videos for encouragement. Ada Wong’s (starting weight: 258) family let her down so the cast filmed a group hug for her in which Frado Dinten told her, “I do consider you family.” The dieters really love each other! All they care about is getting healthy for themselves and their families.

In fact, when they stab each other in the back in order to advance in a game show that carefully disguises the fact that what’s really at stake is $250,000, it’s just a part of their healing. As Patrick told Bob, of his betrayal of Jesse, “ Part of the reason I’m here, and how I got to be 400 pounds, was putting everybody else in front of myself.”

For all the talk of love, family, healing, putting yourself first, and the all-important “journey” you are on, one thing you won’t hear on the Biggest Loser is much talk of the $250,000 cash prize.

Is it because, when you are a reality TV game show which facilitates rapid weight loss that flies against the medical consensus, it might be unseemly to think that people are doing it for money?

“It’s not just about us here at the ranch,” said Mark Pinhasovich, 31, starting weight 421. “It’s about the other people in our lives, and inspiring everyone we meet.”

I guess Mark got the memo to stay on message where the Biggest Loser is concerned. And maybe the LA Times did too. In their coverage of ongoing labor disputes on the set, one line stuck out :

“The show challenges and encourages overweight contestants to shed pounds in a safe manner through diet and exercise as they compete for a grand prize of $250,000.”

However, even with this week’s weigh-in reflecting more subdued numbers than last week’s, (this week most people lost 8 pounds; one lost 10, while last week saw losses of 18 and 19 pounds), some experts would disagree with the LA Times’ endorsement of the safety of Biggest Loser practices.

According to Gerald Bernstein MD, FACP, Director, Diabetes Management Program, Friedman Diabetes Institute, Beth Israel Medical Center, New York,

“For many people, too much weight loss in a short period of time is potentially life-threatening. The first week of weight loss is usually water; after that it’s tissue breakdown. When cells die, they release all their ingredients, like DNA and RNA, and expose the body to large amounts of uric acid. This can lead to kidney stones, urinary obstruction, kidney failure and gout. Since weight control is a lifetime issue, I would not recommend more than 2 pounds per week. That’s a negative 7000 calories and allows the body’s excretory mechanisms to remain unclogged.”

Of course, a reality show that followed obese people losing 2 pounds a week would not make for a rewarding viewing experience. It would take close to a year for them to lose 100 pounds, and cost much more to film than The Biggest Loser’s 18 weeks.

Frado’s reaction to this week’s 9 pound weight loss, bringing his 9 week total to 100 pounds, said it all: “I did it for my family.”

Read our coverage of November 9’s “The Biggest Loser”  (Season 10 Episode 8) here.

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